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COUNTY OF PAINTEARTH No. 18 - Excerpts taken from the
"Story of Rural Municipal Government in Alberta 1909 to 1983"
By the Association of the Municipal Districts and Counties
Contributed for use in Alberta Digital Archives by Darlene Homme
In compiling information on the early days of the area now designated as the
County of Paintearth No. 18, we wish to extend our thanks to these contributors
from widely separated portions of the former municipal districts which now
comprise County No. 18. They are Mr. R. W. Elliott for M.D. Stocks and M.D.
Coronation; Mr. C.F. Pals for M.D. Sullivan Lake and M.D. Progress; and Mr. P.
L. Farnails for M.D. Dublin.
M.D. Stocks consisted of nine townships formed at a meeting held at Sugar Bowl
School in 1916. The men first chosen as councilors were Roll Preston, C.W.
Elliott, Raoul Carbon, Jack Gilbertson, Ed McKay, and Chester Hobbs. Mr. Hobbs
is the only surviving member of that original council. C.W. Elliott was Reeve.
They hired Dave Roberts as secretary-treasurer at $400.00 per year. Their first
meetings were held at Sugar Bowl School for three or four years until John
Nelson was chosen as the next secretary. He built a 12' x 12' office in his own
farmyard about ten miles south-west of Hughenden. His starting salary was
$500.00 per year. Mr. Nelson served until 1944 when M.D. Stocks was disbanded,
with three townships going to M.D. Paintearth and six to M.D. Provost.
M.D. Coronation, comprised of 14 sections, was a little larger than many of its
neighbors. Organized in 1915, it was originally called M.D. Whiteside and
remained under that name for several years. The election, conducted by Herb
High, placed William Waltham as reeve; with Harry Sheardown, Shorty Parker, Joe
Graham, John Miller and W.D. Hazelwood as council members. No member of this
original council is now living. Mr. 0. D. Cochrane was appointed the first
secretary-treasurer and meetings were held in his office, which stood
immediately north of the site now occupied by the Toronto Dominion Bank. After a
few years, Mr. Eric Gibson became secretary and remained in that capacity until
the larger unit of Paintearth was formed in 1944. The annual meetings were held
in the Bob Densmore Hall over his implement agency building. A new brick
building was constructed in 1926 and later sold to the town of Coronation for
their town office.
Formed in 1913, M.D. Sullivan Lake took over all assets and liabilities of
Improvement District 18-J-4. The council, consisting of Messrs. J.H. Roberts, E.
Owens, B. Govaerts, and H. Arthur, set their wages at $3.00 per day with $1.00
more to the reeve, subject to a ten-day limit for meetings and ten days'
supervision in the course of the year. The first account paid was in the amount
of 25 cents to L. L. Pettie for repairing a fresno handle. Mr. C.N. Hughes
became secretary-treasurer for two years at $672 per year, with the requirement
that he provide a building, or a portion of a building, at his own expense for
use as an office, and keep the same open at all reasonable hours for municipal
business. The office should be closed when the secretary was absent on municipal
business, but not for a period exceeding six days at a time. Later, W.A. Sherer
served as secretary from 1915 to 1918; and J.J. Davis was appointed to that
office in Castor. This arrangement was maintained until 1935, when the district
became insolvent and was dissolved.
Allocations for road work usually amounted to $500 to $600 per year for each
division, and the work of making road allowances passable for horse-drawn
traffic was done by four-horse fresnos, at $5.20 per day for the man and his
four-horse team. Wages earned were applied to taxes since no cash payments were
made. The number of days' work allowed was calculated on the number of quarter-
sections a farmer owned, and in most years amounted to one and one-half to two
days per quarter.
During the '30's, the financial position of the M.D. declined as drought
stricken crops forced people to neglect their taxes. Even large corporations,
such as the C.P.R. and various mortgage companies, reneged on tax payments in
the depression years. Requisitions to school districts could not be paid because
the banks would not give further loans. In July 1935, all councilors were
notified by the Department of Municipal Affairs that their services were no
longer required, as Mr. A.E. Potts had been appointed administrator on a
temporary basis. He recommended that the south part of the Municipal District
should be included in the Special Areas which were being organized at that time,
and that the north portion be added to M.D. Progress.
The first minutes of M.D. Progress are missing, but reports of the early
educational system will prove an interesting record for the reader. The smaller
school units comprised an area approximately four miles square, at the center of
which was located the one-roomed school house. The three-man board had a local
secretary-treasurer who served without pay. These units existed until 1940, when
the larger Castor School Division was formed with a larger board and a full-time
secretary to look after the affairs of sixty-seven of the smaller school
districts. The early days were influenced by dry years and a chronic shortage of
money. The teachers' minimum salary was set at $840 per year, but districts
which were especially short of money had no difficulty obtaining permission to
hire teachers at $600 per year.
The one-roomed schools served from six to forty pupils and offered grades one to
eleven, all by one teacher. These might appear to be highly unsatisfactory
working conditions, but it has been recorded that, on one occasion when rumor
had it the teacher was resigning, fifty applications were received for the
position-and it had not even been advertised.
To finance the operation of the schools, a rate of 8 mills was levied on land
assessments. Very little was received by way of government grants. In the minds
of the taxpayers, raising the mill rate for school taxes was considered as
nothing short of a criminal offence, so the mill rate remained the same for many
years at a time. Schools were heated by a coal furnace, with the cost of the
fuel (delivered) being $4.00 per ton. It was a common occurrence to lose half a
day's school while the smoke was being cleared from a troublesome furnace.
It is fitting to record here that Mr. A.R. Newsham, who began his career as
Secretary-treasurer in the Local Improvement District in 1904, carried on in the
same capacity with M.D. Progress, and continued on with the staff of M.D.
Paintearth when it was formed in 1944.
M.D. Dublin, a Local Improvement District in 1906, was established north of
Halkirk and consisted of four townships in 39 and 40, across ranges 15 and 16.
Mr. A. E. Edgworth was the first secretary-treasurer. Here too, road work was
done by farmers in payment of their taxes, with the work laid out by a foreman
who was paid $2.00 per day. Operating cash came from the taxes on the lands of
non-residents who had bought on speculation. Prairie trails served as roads
until farm units were fenced; travelers were then forced to use the road
allowances. The first road building equipment generally consisted of a road
plough and six or eight slips, or road scrapers, as they were called.
Aside from the administrative municipal aspect of pioneer days, some of the
experiences of the early settlers testify to their tough fiber and dauntless
spirits in carving out their farms in this new land. They endured and survived
the most extreme hardships. For example, the winter of 1907 was rated as one of
the most severe. It was 50 degrees below zero, with deep snow for months on end.
Insufficient feed supplies gave the cattle the appearance of hides stretched
over bare bones drifting before the wind. They stumbled into towns and over
coulee banks where they perished, and the piles of bones remained where they
fell for many years. Huge snowdrifts in some of the lower coulees lasted until
In those days, the threshing was done by steam outfits and a crew of ten to
fifteen men usually went with each machine. It was not until several years later
that the first gas tractors came into the country. Those first models did not
have much power. Some tractor-operating Frenchmen are still remembered for their
experience with an I.H.C. unit-they crossed a furrow with it and found it did
not have enough power to pull itself out. However, as the gas tractors became
more efficient the smaller threshing machines became common, and the lumbering
old steam giants eventually vanished from the scene. Today, they stand as
monuments to a bygone era in western pioneer museums.
The wheat raised in the first few years had to be hauled to Stettler. A load of
60 bushels would be hauled on a lumber wagon for a full day's journey. Sometimes
it was difficult to find a place to sell it as there was only one elevator the
first year. Most of it was sold to track buyers and had to be shoveled into the
rail cars. Haulers found the town so crowded that they often had to sleep on the
floor in the hotel, and sometimes in the livery barn loft. Another day would be
taken up with the trip back home and the loading up of another load. The going
price was around 50 to 60 cents per bushel.
As the settlers became more established, the married men brought out their
families and that meant development of some social life-picnics in the summer
and dances in the winter. Omega School was a favorite place for Christmas doings
and parties. The boys of the district had a baseball club which used to meet at
Higgins' store on Saturday afternoon for practice. One memorable and very
complete picnic was held at O'Dellville School. The day was taken up by all
kinds of athletic feats, including foot-racing, throwing the caber (a strenuous
Scottish game) baseball, wrestling, and many other sports. Of course, they had a
sort of a rodeo too which demonstrated some of the best roping in the West. The
picnic ended with a big dance at night, and finally all arrived back home in
time to go to work in the morning.
As has been indicated throughout this narrative, there was a gradual evolution
of local government. From the small school districts came the large Castor
School Division, and from the smaller municipal districts came the large
Municipal District of Paintearth containing some 45 townships. One of the first
tasks after the establishment of the larger unit was the selection of a name.
The incumbent Minister of Municipal Affairs, Mr. E. C. Gerhart, who was also the
M.L.A. for Coronation, suggested the selection of a name of historical value
rather than the name of a town. In the northern part of the new municipal
district is a creek called Paintearth, so named by the early Indians after a red
clay they used to smear their faces with before going on the warpath. This clay
is found in many places along the creek bed. Accordingly this name was adopted
for the new municipal district and, in 1962, carried over to the County of
Paintearth No. 18 when the municipal and school administration united.
The forty year period from 1939 when the Castor School Division #27 was formed
from 77 rural districts and from 1944 when the enlarged Municipal District of
Paintearth #53 developed, proved to be one of unprecedented growth and change. A
comparison of the 1944 municipal budget with that of 1982 can best illustrate
this growth and also the expenditure necessary to meet expanding services. The
1944 assessment base, of $4,814,000.00 almost completely farm land, at a mill
rate of 10 mills along with other revenues of $33,171.00 yielded $65,590.00 to
cover municipal expenses and provided a reserve of $16,279.00 for non
collection. This last factor was exceptionally high for the amount of the levy
and no doubt still reflected problems that the tax collector had inherited from
the dirty 30's. This could be substantiated from a figure of $9400 in the
expenditure side to cover welfare, which at that time included old age pensions
and child welfare, as well as direct relief. Public works expenditures of
$415,000.00 and administration at $8600.00 were the two other main expenditures.
The 1982 assessment base of $37,000,000.00 ($7 M-rural and $20 M-electric power
and $10 M-industrial) at 65 mills yielded $2,450,000.00 for municipal purposes.
Other revenues of $450,000.00 almost equally split between the county's own
sources and provincial sources completed the revenue side. It is interesting to
note that the county derived $150,000.00 in interest earnings from funds on
deposit reflecting a very solid financial base. This was doubly confirmed when
no budgeted figure was allowed for non collection of taxes. Expenditures
reflected changes with only $900.00 for public health as welfare was assumed by
senior levels of government. Public works showed its continuing importance
expending $2,800,000.00 agricultural services required $77,000.00 and a
completely new area, recreation, required $90,000.00 to complete the major
expenditures. Administration naturally increased with the magnitude of the
municipal operation to round out at $170,000.00.
School and education budgets also reflected a similar increase in all
departments, but student population has slowly declined to just below 1000.
Rather than quoting mill rates and assessment a brief point from the 1939 budget
showing over 70 schools operating with total teacher salaries at $60,000.00,
points up the vast change when in 1982 a comparable number of teachers
drew $1,900,000.00 in salaries.
Inflationary costs accounted for much of the increase, along with additional
services offered to residents of the county. At the beginning of the four
decades council and school board members had very few committees to serve on -
the major ones being less than half a dozen. These increased through the span of
time until council members or their appointees served on 28 internal and
external bodies. The formation of the county in 1962 reduced the elected members
to seven persons thereby increasing the individual work load.
Education and public works were closely associated as 77 small schools became 4
major school centralization with a fleet of buses to gather the students.
Better roads were needed with changes from gravel surface to paving as traffic
demanded. Snowplowing daily became essential and the snowplow clubs of the
1950's gave way to a municipal service. Radio communications between buses and
snowplows provided a necessary safety factor during winter storms.
Co-operation with Theresetta R.C.S.D. in the busing of students and with Neutral
Hills S.D. and Theresetta in hiring of local superintendents and assistants
proved very helpful to all concerned. Educational programs were enhanced by shop
and home economics in 1964, an opportunity room for mentally handicapped in
1970, Driver Education in 1971 and full continuing education in 1973. Approval
was given for 4-H and youth groups to use school facilities and in 1978 an
unused portion of Brownfield centralization was leased to the Forty Plus Club
for 20 years for $1.00 for a senior citizen drop-in center. Buildings too had to
be extended, maintained and upgraded to meet changing programs. Teacherages were
built to attract teachers when they were in short supply in the early 60's.
Cooperation too was very effective with the towns of Castor and Coronation and
the Village of Halkirk in providing an ambulance and service in 1974. In the
same year two fire trucks were purchased with the urbans agreeing to house and
man them and over the years both urban and rural worked together to provide for
garbage disposal. In 1981 funds from the 75th provincial anniversary committee
were used to the extent of $40,000.00 to buy a Handicap bus to provide outings
for persons otherwise unable to get around. The balance of the fund was divided
21 ways to charitable and recreational societies.
In 1971 council commissioned a study of rural gas supply which led to the
foundation of Paintearth Gas Co-op. The county also installed its own gas system
to serve the Hamlet of Brownfield but sold it in 1982 to the aforementioned Co-op.
This brief summary shows some of the major increases in the service to tax
payers over a 40 year term. Most have required many hours of work by elected
council members and hired county personnel. The solid financial base and the
effective programs at the end of this era speak well for the dedication and
devotion of council members and their employees over the period.